Friday, October 28, 2005

Blair Speaks

People will be talking about his poodle status, but I like the guy. I think the unacceptable level of Iranian bellicosity needs to be confronted, and Blair's timing is perfect. I wish it had been the French or Germans, but I know that it's better that we in the US keep quiet for now. We know that the Iranians are a threat. With the failing nuclear negotiations, Europe is slowly coming to realize it.

UPDATE: 10/28/05 5:40PM Gates of Vienna has a lot to say on this subject.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Walmart Green Initiative

Glenn Reynolds has a couple of links on Wal-Mart's plans to promote energy efficiency and other environmental efforts. You just never can tell about people.

Link1, Link2

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Saturday, October 22, 2005

Lung Operation

When people have lung surgery, say to remove tumors, the doctors will tell them that it is all the more important to quit smoking. Your kidding right? No, I remember one of my grandfather's friends, years ago, smoking through the hole left in his throat after a tracheotomy for throat cancer, a similar issue. People will continue to smoke in spite of everything. One of my father's friends was an ex-painter with emphysema, still smoking 'til the end, which came a lot sooner than it should have I imagine.

So what's my point? We, as an species have got to quit generating CO2. We're addicted to fossil fuel. Recent evidence shows that the Amazon forest is disappearing much faster than we expected, which was bad enough. Our lungs are going fast.

We really have to solve both problems, don't we? The temperature in a glass of ice water remains at 32 degrees F until the last ice cube melts. Then the temperature soars. Let me ask you this. What's going to happen to the planet when the last glacier melts?

If we are not going to do anything else, we need a crash program to support nuclear energy in the US, and to Hell with Three Mile Island.

10/22/2005 7:10 PM

Other posts on the environment:

8/15/05 Plug-In Hybrids

7/16/05 Another Hot Summer in France

7/6/05 Bush Says Humans Obviously Cause Warming

6/29/05 Slate on Gas

6/29/05 Complex Unknowns

6/27/05 Weak Hand

6/23/05 Bush War on CO2

5/9/05 Uncontrolled Nukes

4/27/05 Talkin' Nukes!

4/15/05 Nukes Ahoy!

4/11/05 Is the Peak a Cusp?

There has also been a lot of discussion on Free Frank Warner where I participated:

09/23/05 Hawaiian Hawk

06/22/05 Bush and Nukes

05/15/05 Enviros Want Nukes

04/29/05 China’s Double Standard

04/03/05 Should We Build Nukes?

02/20/05 Nukes and Global Warming Debate

02/14/05 Coal Casualties II

02/10/05 Carbon Tax and Nuclear Power

02/08/05 Nuclear Power vs. Global Warming

12/01/04 Coal Casualties

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Friday, October 21, 2005

Honoring the Process of Justice

One of Saddam's lawyers was abducted by 10 armed men. He was found dead later with two bullets through his head. I think this is a terrible thing. I can understand the psychology of those who hate Saddam, but attacking the mechanisms of justice cannot lead to a better society.

I'm sure some Americans resented Johnny Cochran for representing OJ in a murder trial where he was obviously guilty. However, most Americans, on both sides of that case, understand sufficiently how justice works, and Johnny Cochran was as widely admired, even after the acquittal, as OJ had once been. If Cochran had been attacked during the trial, Americans would have been united in anger at the attackers for tampering with justice. I am not expecting Iraqis to unite in anger over the murder of Saddam's defense attorney.

The difference is that we have a civic religion about the mechanisms of government and justice that the Iraqis have not had time to develop. For instance, criminals who threaten or kill witnesses evoke a sense of horror far beyond the original crime. In Iraq, it's just business as usual.

This is a teachable moment for Iraq. I'm hoping for a dramatic response from the judge and the Iraqi government.

10/21/2005 1:43 PM

UPDATE 10/24/2005 08:11AM
Iraq the Model has a discussion of this issue with a sprinkling of insightful comments added by readers. He concatenates the recent destruction of the statue of Abu Jaafar, who built Baghdad. I was given pause by one particular comment:

The American revolution remains a model because it was NOT taken over by the most radical elements after victory was secured. France didn't get this and priests and nobility were slaughtered while the people celebrated their coming freedom without considering how liberty would be secured if that liberty was denied to those they defeated. I pray that the people of Iraq take heed of these two similar events and note which one got it right for the long run. ...

I agree. People in the US still underestimate the wisdom of our Founding Fathers, how fortuitous the whole situation was. With the Shiite militias still running loose, Iraq has a problem. The Iraqi government, being Shiia-based, may well not wish to suppress them.

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Thursday, October 20, 2005


Mallory tagged me with some crazy chain mail thing. I am forced to go along with it because she's my only reliable reader. It goes like this. The 5th sentence of my 23rd post is, "I heard someone selling insurance against identity theft on the radio, maybe a month or so ago." The name of the post is "But Can You Trust It?". It is a vague ramble about focused marketing and privacy concerns. The title is a clever foreshadowing of the final sentence. I hope my writing has gotten better since April.

The following poor people are hereby subjected to my tagbrush :

Prairie Angel

M. Simon

Free Frank Warner

LeftCoast Anthony


The rules are easy

1. Go into your archive.
2. Find your 23rd post.
3. Find the fifth sentence (or closest to).
4. Post the text of the sentence in your blog along with these instructions.
5. Tag five other people to do the same.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Gaming the Boomers

Since 9/11 I have been unable to read Molly Ivins, but I found this column inadvertently, and I remember why I liked her. Addressing the pension theft issue, she makes us understand that some of the greatest crimes are financial. Capitalism is the only way to go, but it is a cruel and relentless beast that must be watched very carefully. Democrats are right that we have to take care of one another. Republicans are right that we have to stand on our own two feet. Neither of them do a very good job of making business perps responsible.

10/18/2005 11:31 AM

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Van Gogh Redux

Le Monde has a short article (French) about death threats against newspaper illustrators (political cartoonists) who published drawings in a Danish newspaper. I can't find this article anywhere in the Anglosphere. I thought it was important because of similarity to the Van Gogh affair in the Netherlands, so I have appended my own (very rough) translation. Le Monde has its own spin in the last paragraph.

A young man of 17 years was interrogated Saturday Oct. 15 in Aahrus in the west of Denmark for having threatened two newspaper artists/illustrators (political cartoonists?) with death. The "Visages de Mahomet" (Faces of Mohammed), published Sept. 30 in the conservative daily paper Jyllands-Posten, were caricatures of the Prophet of Islam. Such representations, of humans in general, are proscribed under Islam. One of the caricatures shows Mohammed with a turban in the form of a bomb.

In Denmark, where politics regarding foreigners has become much harsher in recent years and where Muslims are often stigmatized, the publication of these drawings has a particular political resonance. Several thousand Muslims demonstrated on October 14 against these drawings considering them to be "provocative and arrogant". "Islam is angry", chanted the crowd, taking the words of the Imam Fouad Al-Barazi, one of the speakers. Following the advice of the police, according to the paper, the two artists under threat have gone into hiding. The young man arrested Saturday was, according to the paper, in possession of a knife, noting that the individual is known to be "psychologically unstable".

In publishing this series of pictures [?], Jyllands-Posten wished to prove that the artists where victims of self-censorship[?]. The paper had launched an appeal for artists after an author/writer had complained that no one dared to illustrate his book on Mohammed. Twelve artists have responded to the appeal. Islamic organizations have asked the paper to retract [?] the pictures, but in vain.

If the politicians and the Press are largely standing behind the paper regarding these threats, some people are doubtful, as in the instance of Lars Refn, one of the twelve artists. He has chosen to represent not Mohammed, but rather a Danish student writing in Persian on the blackboard: "The journalists of the Jyllands-Posten are a bunch of provocateurs and reactionaries." For Rafn, the true intention of the paper is to poison the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims. Flemming Rose, the editor of the cultural desk, defends himself. He explains that, in his opinion, "Religious beliefs cannot expect a special treatment [status?] in a secular society."

This affair shows to what extent the situation has degraded in Denmark for the Muslim minority of some 150 thousand people (3 percent of the population) mostly from Turkey and Pakistan. The Danish Popular Party [?] (DF, extreme right, receiving 13.2 pct. of the legislative vote in February), provides indispensable support in Parliament for the liberal-conservative government, but is always putting the fat in the fire [?]. Louise Frevert, a candidate of DF for mayor of Copenhagen, compared Muslims to a cancerous tumor and represents Muslim men as potentially violent. Although several people [Muslims?] have filed complaints against her, the police have chosen not to file charges, arousing the indignation of the Muslim community.

Please feel free to correct my translation.

UPDATE: 10/18/05 05:16PM

The "Editors Web Log" has a version of the same story here.

UPDATE: 10/21/05 10:24PM A reader, Hans, has posted a comment with two links to online news articles about this. The illustrations are really very good, particularly the second where the turban is a bomb. These are not just cartoons.

Hans Henrik Pictures of Mohammed - two of the provocative illustrations. Some good comments.

Hans Henrik Article on reaction to Denmark newspaper pictures of Mohammed

(If link fails, do a cut and paste from "Properties" or start with and follow search for Muslim issues.)

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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Hobbits Unleashed

Carl Zimmer has a great summary of the continuing saga surrounding the Homo floresiensis discovery. There are allegations of academic misdeeds and outright shenanigans! The impact on the ancient world of our imagination is such that people are either shocked or delighted by the implications, and some are desperately trying to harness the ur-flow of this mighty meme-stream.

10/12/2005 10:33 AM

UPDATE: Here's a year-old SciAm interview with Prof. Peter Brown who speaks for the Hobbit discovery team. Since then, he has apparently decided that the taxonomy requires a new genus somewhere between homo and australopithicus. He is also now expressing doubts about the dwarfing hypothesis, but has the evidence to prove that the microcephaly challenge is false.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Ward Churchill Guilt Trip

Part III of five parts of an interview with Ward Churchill just appeared on the Dissident Voice. Joshua Frank draws out Churchill in a sympathetic voice giving him full rein to express his amazingly intricate weave of self-justification. The man naturally speaks in a language that Noam Chompsky can merely articulate on paper. I had him pegged as a Post-Modernist, but I must admit to surprise. He not only verges close to the boundaries of comprehensibility, but he actually seems to have something substantial to say. And this is it: Guilt is fungible. Since every white person benefits from the old sins of our forefathers, and the ongoing sins of Nike and Wal-Mart, all white people are culpable. Innocence is an obsolete concept.

I realize that there is some question concerning his standing to argue the issue, but he seems to stand firmly by his status as an American Indian. The confidence with which he speaks indicates to me that he does not believe that this ocean of white guilt washes up on his own shore. Perhaps he is shielded by more than ethnicity. The prophet at the city’s edge, excoriating those within for their sins, is protected by the warmth of God’s affection. Churchill is a difficult man to like. Will Rogers would have had trouble with this one.

I also find this guilt doctrine objectionable, but it does deserve a direct rebuttal. The fact is that we are all survivors descended from survivors. If there were people in the past who consistently chose the noble course over the profitable, they were unlikely to be represented in the ranks of our ancestors. Don Quixotes do not pass on their wealth. The genetics of the species suggests that race is largely a social construct, and that even the social construct is blended and folded in places and time, as exemplified by Churchill himself. There are no levees mighty enough to prevent the spread of guilt from all the Adolph Eichmans, all the Andrew Jacksons and all the Joe Sixpack McDonalds’ diners to the most inaccessibly politically pure population on the planet. Judging from the fact that we are all equally alive, we are all guilty. This argument is an incarnation of Original Sin. Whether you accept it as true or not, it becomes useless as a means of imposing justice on a troubled world.

Another aspect of the Churchill’s generous guilt attributions is the assumption of innocence on the part of races other than the white one. My answer is that every continent but Antarctica has seen its share of massacres, enslavements, conquests, wars and genocides. There is even some suspicion that the forerunners of the Clovis peoples were eliminated on this continent as completely as the horse and mastodon. As I see it, the so-called "white" European culture and associated democratic institutions, whose memetic components have spread to large parts of the world, while perhaps no less brutal in origin, is unique in its capacity for ethical self-correction. That is something worthy not of guilt, but of great pride – to those who contribute.

10/11/2005 7:52 PM

UPDATE: Speaking of Chomsky, by the way, check this important interview from McSweeney's.

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NASA Self-Delusion

Michael Griffin, current head of a toothless NASA, calls the project "Apollo on Steroids". Leonard David of notes that the new moon mission will require continuing political will, not to mention gobs of money. He quotes Gregg Easterbrook, comparing the plans unfavorably to a do-over of the Wright brother's efforts 49 years later in 1952.

It's difficult to muster any enthusiasm for a repeat mission that breaks no new ground. We need to admit that this redundant mission is not going to happen. Why bother starting it? Within ten years we will be confronted with an energetic Chinese initiative in space. If we still find China threatening at that point, we will need to compete with them. Everything that we have on the books now will be thrown out. Let's throw it out now! Why not make a plan instead that incorporates a challenging future. We have the time now to create a decisive advantage. It will require revitalizing our decrepit economy, ending wasteful economic practices, revamping the tax structure, funding research and development and aiming for breathtaking feats.

I have written about my NASA opinions previously here and here.

UPDATE: Science News has a recent article explaining that the Hubble has been reprieved due to public pressure. This is great news to me. In order to make the mission feasible an ingenious method for extending the Hubble's operational lifetime has been devised. Normally operating on three energy-sucking gyroscopes, equivalent orientation control has been established using two gyroscopes and input from the instruments on board. I couldn't find the SciNews reference online, but I found an equivalent article on the Coffeehouse blog. NASA is claiming that it will close out the Shuttle after completing 19 more missions between now and 2010. I have my doubts, but I'll be happy if Hubble is extended.

UPDATE: Here's an article about China's manned flight yesterday. 10/12/2005 1:07PM

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Thursday, October 06, 2005

Rafting with Fossils

The New York Times has an interesting article on Evolution describing parallel viewpoints of two trips down the Grand Canyon, one by a group of scientists and one by a group of creationists. Here is one cogent quotation by a serious Christian.

"Ultimately, creationism is not just bad science to me, it's bad Christianity, it's Bible worship," said Mr. Gishlick, 32, a paleontology Ph.D. "There's just no reason to look at these patterns of layered sediment, or in the fossil record, or at the stars, and think that what you're seeing isn't what you're seeing. God doesn't require you to be stupid, to deny what you see, to deny what you know."

10/6/2005 8:34 AM

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